Joel Woellner, dancer, Queensland Ballet's Swan Lake

The main thing I feel that keeps bringing audiences back is the romance between the Swan Queen and Prince Siegfried. Their story is one of great passion and great tragedy ...

When it comes to ballet, one of the most moving and engaging performances is undoubtedly Swan Lake. The story of good versus evil has been adapted countless times, with Tchaikovsky’s score standing the test of time across generations. Queensland Ballet’s is set to debut its upcoming season of Swan Lake, which is running throughout May. Joel Woellner is the dancer lucky enough to snag the key role of Prince Siegfried in the production, which opens to the public on Friday May 5. We took the opportunity to chat with Joel about how he got his start in the business, his thoughts on the challenging role of Prince Siegfried and the words of wisdom he lives by.

We hear that you started dancing at the age of seven – what was it that drew you towards the world of ballet at a young age?
I was involved in a school production of the Wizard of Oz and my classmates and I were the tornado. My teacher at the time singled me out and told my mum to enrol me in ballet classes!

Can you describe how you felt performing in front of an audience for the first time?
My first time on stage is a memory I’ll never forget. It was for a group showcase performance – I remember being extremely nervous. I was thinking about everything that could go wrong, or forgetting the choreography. It was so bad that my hands were trembling. It wasn’t until I stepped on stage and the lights turned on that I experienced an incredible sense of peace and adrenaline. I was no longer nervous and I danced as if I was in a dream. I’ll never forget that feeling and it’s something I experience almost every time I dance on stage.

You’ve scored the role of Prince Siegfried in Queensland Ballet’s Swan Lake, which you will be playing for the first time! What can you tell us about the role?
Firstly it’s a very technically and physically challenging role – to master the steps and stamina is very difficult in its own right. Not only being able to dance the role well the role of Siegfried requires artistry and emotion. The character has a massive emotional arc throughout the ballet. I must be in character and have the correct emotional responses to make the role convincing. This has been the most challenging part for me.

It’s interesting to note that you nabbed the role while still a Company Artist and not a soloist. For the uninformed, why is this an important distinction?
It’s not uncommon that leading roles go to unprompted dancers in the company. The standard of dancing at Queensland Ballet is very high and lots of dancers are capable of doing main roles. However, I’m very honoured to be entrusted with such a huge opportunity on opening night. I’m very excited to perform and do the role justice.

What is the most challenging aspect of performing in a production like this?
I get very nervous before a big role and since it’s my first time performing this role on opening night, the pressure is on. I have always found pressure and nervous energy help with my performance. I am also comforted by the fact that I have been rehearsed well and I’m dancing with Principal Artist Yanela Pinera who is an incredible and seasoned dancer.

As far as iconic ballet productions go, Swan Lake is at the top of the list. What is it about Swan Lake that you think has helped it stand the test of time?
There are many things that are iconic in this ballet. First is the score – as far as ballet music goes it is the most recognisable. Not only that, but there is such depth and emotion to the score – I’m so moved by the music! Also seeing 22 white swans on stage at once in perfect unison and in perfect lines is not seen in any other ballet except maybe the Shades in La Bayadere. The main thing I feel that keeps bringing audiences back is the romance between the Swan Queen and Prince Siegfried. Their story is one of great passion and great tragedy.

It seems like 2017 is already a big year for you – you were recently nominated for the 2017 Australian Dance Awards in the ‘Outstanding Performance by a Male Dancer’ category. What does it mean for you to receive such a nomination?
It’s a huge honour to be recognised as an outstanding male dancer in Australia. The male dancers I’m in the category with are dancers I have looked up to for many years. I’m also very encouraged by this nomination. I’m heading in the right direction in terms of my performances and as a result I’m determined to continue to perfect my art form and reach more and more audience members.

What are some of your dream roles you are hoping to tick off in the course of your career 
Just a few roles I would love to perform are Albrecht in Giselle and Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. Both roles require so much emotion and artistry!

Do you have any words of wisdom that you live by?
Keep going! It’s a motto I tell myself repeatedly when I’m onstage and my legs are burning and I don’t think I can dance another step, or if I’m suffering from an injury and feeling unmotivated.

Be sure to catch Swan Lake for its run at QPAC from May 5–13. Purchase your tickets here before they disappear. 


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